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The #1 misconception about OSHA compliance is, “OSHA doesn’t apply to my business.” In fact, all businesses must be in compliance because OSHA is the law.   Whether you’re a white collar office or a blue collar shop, if you employ other people, you must pay attention to OSHA. 

--By Sherry S. Robertson, PHR, Vice President & HR Director, IGO Insurance Agency, Inc.

Ask a business owner and they’ll likely know about safety & security assessments conducted by insurance carriers, such as a risk management audit to determine property insurance rates, or a review of workers' compensation claims

But safety compliance isn’t just an insurance issue. Businesses often misunderstand their Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) compliance obligations. 
The #1 misconception about OSHA compliance is, “OSHA doesn’t apply to my business.” In fact, all businesses must be in compliance because OSHA is the law.   Whether you’re a white collar office or a blue collar shop, if you employ other people, you must pay attention to OSHA.

When our customers contact me regarding OSHA and for help creating and implementing safety programs and communications, often they are contacting me in a panic because OSHA has just showed up at their door and they aren’t prepared. 

Here are 9 of the most frequently asked questions I get about OSHA audits, and what I recommend you do to be bettered prepared:

Q1: What might trigger an OSHA audit at my workplace?

A: There are a number of reasons. They include (but are not limited to) a catastrophic workplace accident, an employee complaint or a manufacturer defect with equipment your business uses. For example, if a certain brand of helium tank is found to be defective, OSHA will go in and check tanks used at those business. While they are there, they are going to inspect the property. Keep in mind, you may or may not be told what triggered the audit.

Q2: Does OSHA just “show up” at the workplace?

A: Yes, it’s always a surprise inspection. However, you have the right to have an attorney present, so you do have the right to postpone it as long as the auditor agrees to the day and time.
TIP: One possible predictor is when OSHA concentrates on certain categories of businesses to inspect. For example, if you own an auto repair shop and you learn that your area competitors are being visited by OSHA, then OSHA may very well inspect your business in the next year or two.

Q3: What’s the first thing we should do when OSHA arrives?

A: Be sure to prepare the person who is your front desk greeter. The greeter should
walk with the OSHA inspectors (don’t just direct them) via the shortest, safest walking route to the person-in-charge’s location. No kidding: Anything the inspector sees along the way en-route from the front door to that person’s location can be included in their report. You’ll want to make sure all of your employees know to be congenial and cooperative. Yes, you can always ask polite questions but you don’t want to make demands of the auditor.

Q4: Can I be present during the audit?

A: Yes, you’ll want to walk with them through the whole audit. As noted, you can always politely ask what they are including in their report as it is written down.  If the auditor snaps a picture, you should, too. 

Q5: What are some of the most frequently cited violations?

A: The most cited violations are the absence of 1) The Hazard Communication Program 2) A Written Safety Program. If you know you have those things in place, the auditor will tend to be a little more lenient (unless you also have a major violation).

Q6: What are some examples of “I didn’t know THAT would be a violation!” ?

A: I once had a customer be cited for wall outlets that were installed upside down. The customer was the renter of the building. However, in North Carolina, the renter, not the landlord, is responsible.

Staircases have strict height and width safety standards. The steps need to be non-skid; if they are low, they need to be painted yellow; etc.

Another is lockouts/tag outs: Did you know that workplace electrical equipment that is broken or malfunctioning needs to be locked down, repaired by certified repair person, and then unlocked by that person, only? An example would be the hydraulic lift at a car repair facility.

Do you have an “I didn’t know THAT would be a violation!” example or question? Share it with Sherry! Email her at:

Q7: When can I expect results?

A: It can be up to six months before you receive the results.  You’ll receive official paperwork that outlines each violation, the severity rating of that violation and a corresponding fine based on that severity rating.

Q8: Can I reduce the potential fines?

A: Yes.
During that wait time for the results, I highly recommend you proactively correct what you learned during your walk through. Logically, start with the most glaring and most severe issues, first.  You won’t be able to eliminate the fines but you have a good chance of significantly reducing them. What you don’t want to do is ignore the results. If you do, and do not correct the violations, you will be penalized with additional fines.

Q9: What resources do you recommend for more information?

1) Hands down the best resource is
the OSHA Small Business handbook. Yes, it’s dense reading, but it’s free, it’s downloadable/printable, and it doubles as a self-inspection list. Start by clicking here
> Once on the above page, click on the blue “Small Business Resources” box in the upper right corner for several helpful resources
>> The Handbook is one of the choices in that box menu. You can also click here.

2) Another page on the OSHA small business website takes you to the Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP).
SHARP is OSHA's On-site Consultation Program—the primary program for providing small business owners free consultation services to address hazards and improve workplace safety and health without fear of citations or monetary penalties. There are certain qualifications a business must meet in order to be accepted into the SHARP program. Many are reluctant to contact SHARP out of fear they will trigger an audit, but in fact, while located on the OSHA page, SHARP is not affiliated with the audit side.

3) The commercial and industrial supplier Grainger has a Safety Solution Center. It includes an Info Library with several newsletters and webinars

4) The NC Department of Labor has a section for Occupational Health and Safety on the home page
 > Look for the green box on the left side of the page, and click on the Education, Training and Technical Assistance page
 >> Then click on the OSHA Topics, A-Z 

About Sherry: Sherry S. Robertson, PHR is Vice President & HR Director, IGO Insurance Agency, Inc. Her HR expertise provides services to smaller businesses seeking advice, education and support in all aspects of Human Resources. Her offerings include customized employee handbooks and safety manuals, HR compliance support and support forms, and an HR hotline for guiding IGO Insurance Agency clients through every day employment challenges. Read more about Sherry.

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